Salisbury poisoning suspects wanted over deadly Czech explosion condemned as 'act of war'

April 17, 2021

News that two men wanted over the Salisbury poisonings are now being hunted in connection with an explosion in the Czech Republic have been described by a British MP as "an act of war".

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov are said to have been responsible for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the Wiltshire market town in 2018.

And now Czech police have said they are searching for two men carrying various passports, including Russian ones under the names Petrov, 41, and Boshirov, 43, in connection with an explosion at an ammunition depot in the country in 2014.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, told Sky News he believed that attack was "a direct attack on a NATO country" and that if "that is not a war-like act, frankly I don't know what one is".

He said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the explosion, the poisonings and "a catalogue of crimes" that were "hugely problematic" and he said allies needed to "band together" to tackle the problem.

He added: "I will not be satisfied until we have seen all the money Putin has stolen off the Russia people, detailed and on the front page of every newspaper.

"We know he is hiding hundreds of billions of dollars in jurisdictions around the world and we need to expose that."

Earlier, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the news of the link to the pair and the explosion shows "a disturbing pattern of behaviour", adding that Britain "stands in full support of our Czech allies".

And on Sunday, it emerged the Russian ambassador to the UK said he has not spoken to Mr Raab for more than a year amid rising tensions.

Russian intelligence services are alleged to have been involved in the 2014 explosion - which killed two men - in the town of Vrbetice.

The Czech Republic has given 18 Russian diplomats 48 hours within which to leave the country.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said there was "well-grounded suspicion" about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU in the ammunitions depot explosion.

A diplomatic source cited by Russian news agency Interfax suggested the expulsions could prompt Russia to shut the Czech Republic's embassy in Moscow.

Mr Raab said: "This has exposed the lengths the Russian intelligence services will go to in their attempts to conduct dangerous and malign operations in Europe.

"This highlights a disturbing pattern of behaviour by Moscow, following the Novichok attack in Salisbury.

"We are as determined and committed as ever to bring those responsible for the attack in Salisbury to justice, and commend the actions of the Czech authorities to do the same.

"Russia must desist from these actions, which violate the most basic international norms."

Petrov and Boshirov denied being Russian operatives or being involved in the Skripals' poisoning in March 2018.

They told Russia Today they were only in Salisbury as tourists to visit the cathedral and nearby Stonehenge.

Police published a detailed photographic account of the men's movements while in the UK.

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An Interpol "red notice" and a European warrant have been issued for their arrest should they try to leave Russia.

Czech Police said in a statement that they are looking for "two persons" who "used at least two identities... in connection with the investigations of the circumstances of serious crime".

They said they were in the Czech Republic from 11 to 16 October 2014, "first in Prague, then in the Moravian-Silesian Region and the Zlin Region".

As well as Petrov and Boshirov, they also used Moldovan and Tajikistan passports under the names Nicolai Popa and Ruslan Tabarov, they added.

Analysis: Suspects' intelligence unit is centred on eliminating Russia's enemies abroad
By Deborah Haynes, foreign affairs editor

British security officials believe the duo - real names Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga - are members of a GRU Russian military intelligence unit called 29155.

This unit has also been linked to a coup plot in Montenegro, the poisoning of a Bulgarian arms dealer and the possible payment of bounties to militants for killing NATO forces in Afghanistan.

An MI5 officer called Kate who works on countering the Russian threat to the UK gave Sky News's Into The Grey Zone podcast her thoughts on unit 29155's mission.

It "is centred on eliminating Russia's enemies abroad and destabilising the west", she said in episode nine of the series, which first aired in March.

"Effectively a deniable group of individuals, or at least I assume their intention was to be deniable, but to conduct what is pretty dirty work on behalf of the Russian state... This is a special operations unit.

"It's a military unit, special forces type unit. They will be well trained, military officers."

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